ON Wednesday, the Bill for an Act to regulate the spread of fake news on the internet has passed its seconding reading, despite criticism by media practitioners and other stakeholders that it may violate the rights of expression of Nigerians.
The bill titled: Provisions for the Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill, 2019 (SB. 132) was sponsored by Senator Muhammed Sani Musa.
Senator Ibrahim Gobir and Senator Elisha Abbo have argued for the speedy passage of the bill.
Abbo alluded to his own experience as a victim of propaganda circulated on social media, saying “even conventional media that are regulated are suffering from falsehood.”
“Today we know that America has risen up against fake news as it has had very terrible consequences in America. Fake news is dangerous, therefore Mr President, we must rise to the challenge,” Abbo said.
However, Senator Chimaroke Nnamani expressed disapproval over the passage of the bill, saying, “I not only oppose it in totality, but I also condemn this Bill”.
Nnamani said, “based on our constitution that guarantees freedom of speech, there is a cybercrime act that deals with this”.
The Senate President Ahmad Lawan referred the Bill to the Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters to report within four weeks.
The presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar in the 2019 General Elections had criticized the proposed bill as a means to shrink the democratic space to satisfy personal and group interests.
The mere contemplation of such laws is in itself not just hate speech but an abuse of the legislative process, Atiku was quoted by his media aide Paul Ibe.
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) also “strongly advised” the senate to tread carefully on the bill.
NBA said that the newly introduced bill could not be justified in a democracy reminding the senate that section 39(3) of the Nigeria Constitution had made it mandatory that no law could abrogate the rights of Nigerians to exercise their right to freedom of speech.
Meanwhile, the bill proposing the establishment of a regulatory agency to protect persons with mental health has on Wednesday passed second reading at the Senate.
The bill, proposed by Oloriegbe Yahaya, who represents Kwara Central Senatorial District also seeks to establish a commission for mental and substance abuse services, to effectively manage mental health challenges in the country.
The bill is titled: “A Bill for an Act to provide for the establishment and regulation of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, protect persons with mental health needs and establishment of National Commission for Mental and Substance Abuse Services, for the effective management of mental health in Nigeria and for other related matters, 2019 (SB. 66)”.The bill was supported by Senator Matthew Urhoghide and Senator Abdullahi Yahaya.